The right kind of eyes

nutcrackerA quick post before I take a holiday break. N and I finished The Nutcracker by ETA Hoffmann. It was a wonderful read, and N loved it right the way through — at least until quite close to the end.

One night while I read aloud, she worked away on a Nutcracker scene in her room, placing a doll in a cradle as Princess Pirlipat, with a larger doll playing the role of Marie Stahlbaum nearby. A Yeoman of the Guard tree ornament played Nutcracker himself, and several other dolls and animals filled in the backdrop.

Now and then she paused from her work to study Maurice Sendak’s drawings. “He’s good,” she said solemnly. “He’s really good.”

marie sleeping

As the story drew to a close, it became clear that Marie and Nutcracker, aka young Drosselmeier, had fallen in love. “In a year and a day he called for her in a golden carriage drawn by silver horses. At the wedding, two and twenty thousand of the most brilliant figures adorned with pearls and diamonds danced, and Marie is believed to be still the queen of a country where sparkling Christmas woods, transparent marzipan castles, in short, the most wonderful things, can be seen if you have the right kind of eyes for it.”

maurice sendak nutcrackerN does have the right kind of eyes, to a point. She has no problem with transparent marzipan castles, with dolls that come alive at night, with mice that have seven nasty heads, with towns made of candy, and sweet-toothed giants swallowing sweet towns whole, with cities made of gingerbread, and rivers made of honey, orange and lemonade, all emptying into Almond Milk Lake, where the plump little fish look just like hazelnuts. That houses are made from chocolate, roofed with gold, and trimmed with shelled almonds and candied lemon peel, is no surprise to her. Was Marie dreaming or was the world she traveled through (in a jewel-encrusted gondola drawn by golden dolphins) real? Either way, N accepted it.

But what was absolutely unfathomable — what yanked her right up off the page and straight out of this winter wonderland — was the news that Nutcracker and Marie would marry.

“What?!” she cried as I read the last words. “She’s seven! Mom! Marie is seven years old! She can’t get married!”

As Godfather Drosslemeier would say, “Stuff and nonsense!” Then and there, N was through with The Nutcracker, classic or no. But I suspect she’ll be drawn into its candy world once again next year.


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10 responses to “The right kind of eyes

  1. Lenny

    My own head was swirling at the description of transparent marzipan castles and Almond Milk Lake, but N’s reaction to Marie marrying was like the sound of the needle scratching across the record – too funny.

    Thank you both for sharing these enjoyable posts and delightful illustrations. Merry Christmas and happy travels.

  2. Rige

    If Marie could marry then N. could be married already! hvn forbid!
    So funny.
    Yes thanks so for sharing!

  3. Marilyn

    What a fairy land Marie lives in! What a laugh I had at N’s outburst…reality hits the fan! But I also think she’l be back for more of the fairyland bit next year. Happy travelling.

  4. kristendenhartog

    Off to Honey River!

  5. N is a wise little girl. You and she are so tuned in to each other, so open. Whatever words did you find to respond to her reaction?

    • kristendenhartog

      I was laughing so hard I couldn’t answer. But later N asked if we could do our own pictures and rewrite the story, so I imagine we would change the ending if ever we did get around to that task!

  6. This is a fascinating post. It reminded me of a conversation I had with my husband a couple of days ago about the logic of childhood. He asked me if I remembered finding out that Santa Claus wasn’t real. I said yes, I was about 12 and it was a great trauma. He expressed amazement at my age (I’m not sure of the age actually but I know I was quite old, relatively speaking). He said that when he was 7 or 8, he and his sister had figured it out because they knew that magic wasn’t real and Santa Claus was magic so therefore he couldn’t be real. However, in MY world, magic WAS real and I guess that’s how I continued to believe for so long. This led to a conversation about the weird world of the Nutcracker, which both of us remembered baffling our childhood logic, though for different reasons – not the same reasons as N’s either. He had trouble with the idea of a nutcracker as a soldier since nutcrackers he was familiar with were purely functional and didn’t seem to have any connection with soldiers. I was disturbed by the mice for some reason. Probably because, having grown up in an old house in the country, I was all too familiar with mice and couldn’t fit them into the high magic of the rest of the story. I had completely forgotten the detail about a 7 year old marrying!

    • kristendenhartog

      I love these kinds of conversations between grownups, unpacking the milestones from childhood. Thanks so much for chiming in Elizabeth, and for bringing your husband along too!

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